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on 1 June 2002
Asians in Britian by Rozina Visram is subtitled '400 years of history' and so it starts in 1616 with the first documented case of an Indian boy in the UK. This is the first of hundreds of fascinating facts and anecdotes that guide the reader through the often hidden history of the Indian community in Great Britian.
The study is roughly chronicological with chapters devoted to different phases of immigration and the resultant imapct on both societies. This is a serious study of the history of the indian community in Britain but it is far from a stodgy acedemic affair - it is very readable and superbly researched with copious notes and references for further study. The history stops abruptly at the 1950s, and there is a feeling that this could be the subject of a future piece of work. The only other minor shortcomings are a paucity of illustrations and supporting statistical tables and analysis.
Overall, a really excellent pieces of work that is perfect for educators, parents and serious students.
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on 15 November 2004
An intense book packed with information but containing human stories throughout. The treatment of black and mainly asian immigrants and those serving the interests of Britain are painstakingly picked apart here. Visram draws on wide resources from official documents to referenceable testimony to redress the bias against our asian cousins.
Asians in Britain ought to be a shaming account of officialdom and the failures of 'radicals'to take up the battle for common freedoms.
Particularly of note at this time of year - remembrance day (just passed) are the chapters concerning asian contributions to the first and second world wars and motivations for doing so. The Indian elites supplied vast amounts of men, women (and possibly children), money and materiel for the war efforts of their imperial masters. Such things are largely overlooked or conveniently airbrushed to fit an officialised version of events, one that states that 'we' stood alone. Visram falls slightly into the trap of WW2 being about democracy versus fascism (p341)which tends to whitewash allied endeavours and demonise the then enemy. Yet as detailed throughout this is very much democracy based on sleight of hand.
Reading like a who's who of asian subjects, the struggle for equality and recognition and the length's taken to achieve it, Malcolm X's words to the effect of it not mattering what you do, you will always be a nigger come to the fore. Unfortunately, this is well proven in this book. For us white folks viewing other peoples as a distinct and necessarily seperate race this makes 'niggers' of us all.
At times it can be a 'bitty' read but then one shouldn't be expecting a flowing novel and it certainly doesn't detract from the books value as a reference work in its own right or platform for further reading.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 January 2015
Four centuries ago, at the beginning of the 17th Century, passengers aboard a ship belonging to the East India Company carried a young man who would be the first recorded Indian in Britain. He was soon followed by other Indians associated, directly or indirectly, with the Company, as lascars (seamen), ayahs (nannies) or servants. Rozina Visram charts the history of Indians, and in passing that of other foreign nationalities, in Britain from that period until the end of the Second World War.

It is a history marked by inequality and segregation, prejudice and mistreatment, but also often of endless hard work, creativity and heroism. Sometimes through economic or political necessity or opportunity-seeking, sometimes to gain skills to take home, and sometimes simply for want of seeing the “mother country”, Indians came to Britain, some leaving later in order to apply their skills, knowledge or political ambitions back in India, others staying and integrating as best as they were allowed into their new home.

Moral panics abounded, especially with regard to a fear of white women mixing with non-white men, and there were the usual tales of Indians taking British jobs and selling substandard goods. A reluctance by landlords to rent out lodgings to non-whites meant that what accommodation was available was substandard, and in such short supply that Indians were forced to crowd into squalid slums, upon which effect and cause were confused and this was taken to be the Indian norm: thus are myths created.

But despite this Indians thrived and made positive contributions to their new home. They became a new source for the expanding industrial working class, opened restaurants purveying exotic, novel food, and cared for the health needs of Britons as doctors and nurses, eventually to become a key component of the National Health Service. Without Indians in Britain we may never have had, or would only have had later, meals on wheels, Pelican Books and much of the knowledge we currently have of hypertension. Crucially, India itself also contributed men, women and materiel during two world wars: Visram rounds off her chapter on the Second World War with the story of Noor Inayat Khan, an SOE agent who worked with the French Resistance, and who was captured by the Gestapo, tortured, and eventually taken to Dachau and shot. For her service Khan was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French and the George Cross by Britain. Conversely, many of the lascars who perished during both world wars remain unacknowledged by the authorities, and some of those wounded as a result of enemy action found themselves without pay during their convalescence due to their inability to work.

Despite its title, however, the book only really covers 350 years of history, not 400. That’s a shame, as it would have been useful to have seen at least an overview of how the South Asian presence in Britain developed over the 60 years subsequent to the Second World War (the book was published in 2002). Apart from that, though, the only mild irritant I found, and this is purely a matter of personal taste, was Visram’s habit of occasionally posing a series of questions as scene setting for what is to come next. As the questions proliferated I occasionally found myself thinking “I don’t know. Why ask me?”

On the whole though this is a story well told, and a story which deserves to be told not only on its own merits, because it’s interesting and eye-opening, but also to redress the balance of the distorted view some people have of the Asian presence in the UK.
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on 2 March 2014
Rozina is a genuine scholar and writes eminently readable prose: not a combination found in all historians. All her work is accurately referenced and she does not shy away from 'difficult' issues nor over-egg any puddings. Facts speak for themselves. The founding of the India Office in London and the chapters on the Great War are particularly good, although it's invidious to leave out the other chapters! It is an outstanding achievement to produce such a comprehensive, balanced and lucid account.
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on 3 September 2014
Read it and loved it. Writing style is easy and each chapter is long enough to keep one engrossed.
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